This Christmas 

For a long time,  my Christmas was a regiment of obligations, parties,  people,  and travel, things I moved 1,800 miles away from for some quiet and freedom. 

Christmas eve was reserved for my dad’s side of the family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends would pour into my parents’ house for a night of drinking, games, and so so much food. It would end promptly a few minutes before midnight as all the good catholics in the family rushed off to midnight mass. Then after the leftovers were packed, garbage thrown away and house cleaned, my sister and I opened gifts and went to bed. 

At 4am we were shaken awake and marched to whatever car was warming up in the driveway. Invariably it was whatever my dad had just finished fixing up,  and our test drive of the brand new motor he started for the first time was a road trip to Oregon to see my mom’s family. Our first stop was gas, and the second stop was usually as the sun came up,  somewhere in northern California  (and I’m not talking San Francisco or Sacramento as northern California,  we’re taking Willits, Red Bluff, Yreka, or Weed) for breakfast at the most dive diner my dad could find. His ability to find a yard sale is impressive, but his ability to find a hole-in-the-wall place to eat is unequaled. 

Hours later we would arrive in the Willamette Valley to another house full of family. Instead of tamales and handmade tortillas, we dined on skillet fried potatoes, beans and cornbread. 

This Christmas I’ll be dining on leftovers. The few years I have gone to California for Christmas, the travel and ordeal nearly drives me to drink…more. So I’m staying put this year. Hoping the tamale fairy stops by tonight, cause the vodka fairy came last week and left a BIIIG bottle behind. Tomorrow I’ll wake up,  realize Santa started a “oh hell no” list, and left me with a lazy dog and dishes to do instead of gifts. Which is ok,  but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the obligations, people, parties and family I was surrounded by for so long. 

If I wasn’t so stubborn, cheap, and babies didn’t cry on planes, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Next year…maybe, but grubhub is hard to give up for a broken down Chevy with no heat in the syskiews on the way to eat someplace called Joe’s Trash Shack. 

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Singing and Crying

Getting drunk and crying isn’t exactly something confined to a single culture. A quick ride on the Red Line during any Chicago holiday, or a late night out in Wrigleyville pretty much drives that one home as a experience that isn’t bound by any demographic. I’m not a drunk crier, I’m a pretty happy drunk most of the time, the other times I’m slutty. But I digress…

Today I was at a house party, and like any respectable gay man who is single and well into his 30s, put away half a case of hard cider by myself. Yes ladies and gents, I go hard. Anyway, I dragged myself home just after the heat of the day had passed, walked my dog and settled in for a night of tv and pizza. To keep myself entertained while I added extra pepperoni and cheese to topping poor pizza, I put on some music. Como la Flor by Selena came on, and before I knew it, I was sprinkling extra cheddar, singing along, and tears were streaming down my face.

I’m not sure if it’s been the past few week’s work load, the excessive amount of cider sugar making its way out of my body or the fact that this summer has been hot, humid, and it’s driving everyone crazy, but there I was. Standing in the middle of my kitchen, drunk, singing, and crying. In that moment, I was a Mexican stereotype.

I don’t even know if that is a stereotype actually. If I asked my non-latino friends if they’d ever heard that when latino men (particularly those of Mexican heritage, since that’s what I’ve got the most experience with, you know, family and all) get drunk, they sing and cry, if they’d be able to say yes, they recognized that stereotype. They alos get a little handsy with each other, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog and possibly a PhD thesis or reality tv show. But I digress, yet again…

In my moment of raw emotion, when Selena was singing about how much she hurt, and about lost love, I had a moment of clarity. The men who I’d grown up around, who would get drunk on a driveway or around a fire pit in the yard, who would sing and yell and curse and cry, were putting it all out there and bearing their souls. My tios, my dad’s compadres, left behind their families, their homeland, their language, and now live in a place where they don’t fit in, not exactly anyway. Huddled around those burning embers, music and songs from their past would come on, and they would sing, and cry, and remember what they left behind. What they sacrificed to have a better life, and the people they may never see again.

That’s what I had. Those are the feelings that came flooding over me as the heat from the oven rushed over my face. I thought about my friends, my family, and couldn’t remember when the last time was that I didn’t feel totally disconnected from where I came from. In that moment I realized what the men who got drunk, and sang and cried were feeling, because I didn’t know before. I didn’t know why they cried. I didn’t know why Vicente Fernandez would trigger arms over each other’s shoulders, swaying and shouting. They too, were disconnected, but in those moments, the connection and memories would come back like a shot (after many shots), and they mourned the warmth from the memories as it slowly faded away verse by verse.

I texted Carmen after I had dried my eyes, I knew she’d understand and think it was funny, and I needed a laugh. It’s nice to know my culture is still in here somewhere. I may be living a life with no current purpose, and the only direction it is has is towards another nap, but some of my memories have a different angle to them now. It’s been a while since I stood around drinking with my family and friends and bared my soul. I should probably do that on a more regular basis, once i’m somewhere with a driveway.

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The American Dream

When I think of the “American Dream,” a cute house in the burbs, two cars, husband, kids and dog all pop into my head. Thats always been what I thought of as making it, and being successful. When I was fresh out of high school, shoot, even into my mid twenties, thats all I wanted. Its what I worked, dated and cried for. I thought that by moving to Chicago, it would be easier to find. Guys with a similar mindset, lower cost of living, all of it. I thought may be a bit more accessible there than in San Francisco. Things have changed…

As my seemingly never ending trip to California rolls on (all of November basically), I have come to realize that what I want out of my life has changed. There was actually a moment, an exact point in time I can pinpoint when exactly it changed and the fog in my brain lifted and I said to myself “I don’t want this.”

“This” being the expected outcome of my life.

I babysat my nephew the other day. He’s a doll, I love him to death. SO much fun, full of life, energy and his little speech impediment is kind of adorable. Spending time with him made me realize, I really don’t have that parental gene. I totally thought I had it, I really did. I always told myself that I wanted kids and that I would have some of my own some day, you know, when the right guy came along. Now, I’m very happy to babysit (as long as they’re well behaved and I don’t have to change diapers), but I actively don’t want kids (not that I’m in danger of accidentally having one since I’m a raging homo and the thought of sex with a…I’ll just stop there.).

Its not just kids that my opinion of has changed. The house, the yard, the dogs and general picture of the American Dream can pretty much suck it. While helping my parents put away patio furniture, over the deck that needs to be replaced before I fall through, walking across the grass that I mowed for years, and into the tool shed which I helped build many moons ago, I realized, I don’t want anything to do with this either. I’m just going to say that thing you’re not supposed to say, it’s too much work and I don’t want it. I don’t care enough to do it. If I came across a windfall of cash and I could pay someone to keep up a yard and house for me, I’d be all about it, but I can write checks like no one’s business. I understand the pride that comes from making a space your own, but, um…I’m over it.

I see myself much happier in a great condo, apartment or townhouse with a small deck or patio or balcony with a great view in the city. The money that I save on not having children, patio furniture, dogs or redoing the roof of the house can go towards fantastic vacations, hobbies, cars and spoiling my nephews and nieces.

I still do want a husband in there somewhere, especially if he likes to cook and doesn’t mind that I’ll never do laundry (I keep small businesses in business by taking my clothes to be fluff and folded, SO worth it.). But I’m hoping he’ll be a little easier to find now that my standards aren’t quite so stringent.

I don’t think that all of the American Dream is for everyone. But I feel like we’re all supposed to want it. Its like that is what we are all programmed to want. It feels very strange taking an anti stance on it. After being of the mindset that it was what I wanted out of life for so long, I feel like a rebel. But I have a feeling, I’m just getting to the party a little later than everyone else. Fashionably late if you will, and luckily, not in dirty clothes from cleaning the yard.

Shared History

Back when I was a baby gay, a mere lad of 20, venturing out to see the world on my own, I was blessed to be welcomed into the fold by a strong couple, Louis (or Luigi as I had come to know him) and Ira. I call them my Fairy God Gays, because in my mind, they saved and guided me through some rough times in my young queer life. 

Louis and I met while we studied Italian/s in Florence one very muggy summer. He quickly picked me out of a gaggle of youths as the gay one in the group and took me under his wing. I was out, but just barely. It was a week into our month long trip when Louis asked me if I wanted to go to a gay bar with him. It was Italy after-all and I was of drinking age, so I nervously accepted and met him at a piazza after dinner. The bar was at the back of a dead end alley, and looked like a dumpster with a door and you had to knock in order to get in since there was no outside handle. He knocked, my heart fluttered and we were under ground in a few moments (in what I still consider to be the most unique gay bar I’ve ever been to).

A month wiled away and I found myself back in Santa Cruz. Things weren’t going great at home for me, I had been out for two years and my mom and I still weren’t really speaking. Occasionally she would ask about school and work, or we would sit awkwardly in silence while Will and Grace gave hope to people everywhere that it was ok to be gay, as long as you were boring, lived with a woman and never had gay sex. I was lucky that Louis and Ira were there to tell me differently. They knew things weren’t great at home and opened their home to me if I ever needed a place to get away, or even spend time with a gentleman caller. They also opened their hearts.

When I  would visit for dinner, I would bring them stories from the front lines of the young gay happenings. Mostly what I had to tell them was how many times I’d been to the Castro that week and that I saw someone have his crotch crushed with a boot on the back patio of the Lonestar Saloon. They would tell me about their most recent trip around the world, or cruise, or foreign port and show me how big the world was. They also told me what it was like to be gay (not on TV), how we got to where we were and what it was like before I stepped into the rainbow light. I heard about New York City before Stonewall, where men were dragged from gay clubs and beaten by police. I remember Ira telling me about sitting on a bus bench and waiting for the right time to run into a gay club when he thought no one was watching.

Aside from my lesbian best friend (Kristin), I didn’t really know any other queer people. Sure I knew some people from the bars and clubs, but the only thing I was learning from them was how to give a BJ on a dance floor and not get caught, and sneak your underage friends into a bar. No one was telling me about the AIDS crisis that started shortly after I was born, how to prevent it, or stop myself from getting it, or even why using condoms was important. When you come from a small town, these are not the things you are taught in your day to day life (I do know how to rebuild an car engine, slaughter livestock and prepare it for a meal, also how to make flour tortillas from scratch though).

Louis and Ira taught me. They showed me. I saw that I had more options to my life than being an AIDS victim, or a musical theater gay, or living a pseudo hetero life with a straight girl so that people would not be threatened by my queerness. I could be a doctor, like Ira, perhaps run a political campaign like Louis, and I could see other parts of the world and live my life the way I wanted, because they did. They lead by example. They shared their life and their history, and it has become my history. It was my history before I knew about it, I just never had anyone to teach me.

Queer people don’t often have the opportunity to learn about our history until it’s forced upon us. Our parents don’t teach little rhymes to us like “Judy, Liza, Barbra, Bette. These are names I shan’t forget” to bestow a love of those brash broads of the screen and stage in our hearts. Our parents don’t talk to us about us about Harvey Milk and the White Night Riots, or the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans where more than thirty gay people were locked in a nightclub while it was burned to the ground. They’re not going to drive their kids to Disneyworld, and pass by the Pulse nightclub and say “this is where 50 queer people (and their allies) were gunned down, fueled by rage, discontent and self hate.” Queer people need to teach queer people about where we come from, what we’ve been through, and why it matters that, as much as I hate crowds, parades, and sitting in the hot sun, I go to pride to be present and accounted for. It’s a history that we inherit, whether we want it or not, so we can be ourselves even when people don’t want us to be.

Ira died on Sunday. He and Louis were together for 36 years. It’s hard for me to imagine that this man is gone from my life. The last time i saw Ira, I had been lucky enough to be invited to their San Francisco home for pride and mingle with a few gay men from a generation that was almost all but wiped out. I could never get enough hugs from Ira when I was leaving the party, his affection was always so genuine and real. I’m blessed that Louis gives amazing hugs, spins an amazing tale, and is around to help guide and chide me. I still have a lot to learn, and a lot to teach, we all do.

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What’s A Big Boy to Do?

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately, mostly mine. I try not to think about other people’s relationships too much, as I find comparing myself to others to be lothesome, and yet sometimes unstoppable. But it’s been a few years since my last serious relationship/heartbreak and I think I’ve finally come to the place where I’m ready to try again (in large part because I think going through life with someone to share your burdens and joys with makes life easier and more enjoyable, at least that’s what it looks like from the single point of view).

Sadly I never got the knack for dating and turning dating into a relationship. I’m a jump in with both feet kind of guy. Something I’ve been working on the past few years, learning how to be patient and actually date. It’s not going well. When things aren’t going well I tend to fall back on my old standby, ie: long distance dating.

I’ve always been a believer that the odds of the love of my life living just a few blocks away or even in the same city as me are not in my favor. I also know that as a man of size the number of other men who are interested in me and not ashamed of it (more on self loathing chasers in some other post I’m sure) are few and far between. So when someone messages me from out of the blue telling me that they think I’m attractive and we have a stimulating conversation that goes beyond asking me what I’m into, I get kind of excited. This happens on a semi-regular basis thanks to the magic of apps and the internet. What also happens along side of that, is they are multiple states away.

So what’s a big boy to do? Over the years I’ve racked up enough airline miles, and logged enough time in the drivers seat of my car traveling to see these interests that I would be embarrassed to calculate the number, if it were possible. And here I sit, still single. A few of distance ventures have turned into genuine friendships and the effort made has been worth it as far as connections go. The rest have been lost to make room for lyrics to a new Britney song, or movie quotes.

I think the distance thing is possible and works for a lot of people. Yesterday during lunch with my co-worker, I had an epiphany. Aside from some of the guys who I traveled to see being assholes, one of the main reason my long distance conquests didn’t turn into a relationship had a few things in common:

  1. Lack of effort on both our parts. I figured, the first time I come to see you, the next time you come to see me. Usually I was the one logging the hours, money and effort. But why didn’t we make it to another trip? Things just kind of fade away after I return. Me expecting them to give a little more of themselves, them expecting me to do the same and neither of us do.
  2. Intensity. When you don’t know when you’re going to see each other again, you try and savor each moment. The time and effort you’ve put forth needs to be worth it, so you cram as much “memorable” things in as you can. It becomes a three day romantical experience. Know what happens when people are being romantic for three straight days? They aren’t themselves. You don’t meet friends, or family or see what their apartment looks like when they’ve had a hard week and don’t want to do anything except sit on the couch and eat pizza and watch tv.
  3. Chemistry. Getting to know someone via phone, text, email is great. There is no physical distraction from actually having a conversation, but at the same time, there is no physical connection either. No touching, no kissing, you don’t know what it feels like to rest your head on their shoulder. Maybe it’s awful. maybe they’re boney or they try and hold your hand like it’s a flipper. Maybe the chemistry isn’t there and you realize you’re not going to go anywhere so you part ways…well, on a three day date, you can’t.
  4. Projects. I love a project boyfriend. I could write a Bob Vila style book on fixing up your man to be exactly what you want him to be. For me, I see a guy who doesn’t have a job, thinks I’m hot, lives far away and says he wants to meet me and will if I buy the ticket, and I picture the ring I want to buy him and where we’re going to hold our wedding. I see red flags and think they’re showing me the way. Kind of like in a horror movie, when people hear a noise upstairs when they’re alone in the house, i’m not running out the front door, I’m sprinting up the stairs with a welcome basket full of unrequited love, anxiety and a new pair of pants I’m just sure he’ll look great in.

So…what’s a big boy to do? I’m ready for an adult relationship. I’m taking my experiences and knowledge and applying them to my dating life (I realize I’m quite old to be doing it and at this point I should just settle with anyone who will have me, but I’m still going to make an effort). Part of that means, if I like someone, I’m going to put the work into getting to know them and making time for them. I’m going to see red flags and project boyfriends and say “you know what, no. I got myself together, you should be able to do the same. If you have a plan, awesome, I’m happy to help, but I can’t be the guy who does all the work on your behalf.”

I think that’s a fairly good jumping off point. It’s not everything, but it’s a start, and I have to start somewhere.

Love and Derby

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, I just slammed you with a request to like a page called Chicago Bruise Brothers. It’s a men’s roller derby team (yes, men’s roller derby) and I joined up at the end of the summer 2013 (after some poking and prodding from my online bestie who just herself rostered with Philly Roller Girls – proud of you, Leash!).

Why derby? Why NOT derby!? But really, why…

I’ve been rolling around on quad skates since I could stand. Thanks to my mom’s involvment in Jazzercise at the local roller rink and my dad’s company’s annual Christmas party at the rink, it was just something that happened. I spent more than my fair share of time skating around my town, dodging cars and looking for something that resembeled a smooth surface that wasn’t coated in rocks (no sidewalks in the country, y’all). Eventually my parents found my way to roller hockey and I was given a helmet and pads for the first time. There was a lot of travel involved, to very exotic locaitons like Chowchilla, CA (no seriously, it’s a real place) for tournaments and games. After a few years I fell out of hockey and fell into the pool for waterpolo and swimming, never quite hanging up my skates, but never spending days in them anymore.

Fastforward about 15 years, though volleyball, more swimming and waterpolo, cheerleading and a cross country move and I’m looking at years in a weight room and a serious lack of personal interaction. Cheering in Chicago didn’t seem to work out all that well, so I was at a loss of what to do next. Although I’m quite the introvert and very shy, I do need interaction once in a while. After nudging from Leash, I contacted the Bruise Brothers and was told to drop by practice. So one Wednesday, I saddled up my trusty ZipCar and hit up the west suburbs in search of something, but I wasn’t exactly sure what.

What I found was an awesome group of guys and gals playing a sport that I’d seen once in a while, but had no idea what was going on. But it looked fun, and I knew how to skate, so the next week I padded up, threw on some rentals and did skating drills for 2 hours. Just skating, no hitting, it took a LONG time to get to hitting, like 2 months of skating and no hitting. When I got to hitting, it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would, but yes, it still hurts, but wow is it fun. At least, I think it’s fun, or thought?

My first sanctioned bout is this coming Saturday. I’ve played in a couple co-ed bouts and always have an amazing time. The hits come fast and hard and the action is nonstop. I’m always super happy to play. For some reason, this weekend, makes me nervous. Maybe because I’ve gotten into my own head too much. Maybe I’m watching too many derby gifs on tumblr. Maybe it’s because the last couple practices have left me feeling like I’m lost once I hear the whistle blow and forget everything my coaches have been telling me. Maybe, I’m confusing nervous, with excited.

In any case, 2 days from now, I’ll be strapping on my skates, pads and pulling my jersey on (TwinkleBeef – #831 – repping the Central Coast), and trying to figure out how to keep that dude with the star on his head from passing me.
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The Joys of Homeownership

Just a few highs, and not highs, of owning my place over the past 7 months:

  • Got to write the biggest check I’ve ever written (for the down payment)
  • Reoccuring realization that I never have to move again
  • I can paint! But I haven’t (so glad gays lived in my place before I moved it, it totally works)
  • Furniture shopping
  • Massive TV. Its like watching the Real Housewives fight in person
  • Remodeling! But I haven’t
  • Pride of ownership
  • Continue to write large checks every month (not as thrilling after the first time, I assure you)
  • Larger tax refund
  • Plan awesome vacation in head with larger tax refund
  • Decorating! But I haven’t
  • Sigh with sincere relief when the water leak in the building happened a floor below, not above
  • Come home one night to find refridgerator is not cold and freezer has started to thaw, pray the cold weather knocked out the power or something
  • Wake up in the morning and realize, I own my appliances!
  • Shopping for new appliances!
  • Sudden realization new appliaces will be in exchange for awesome vacation, shop for aroma therapy candles instead of flights
  • Realization that moving isn’t really an option anytime soon when the cloggers above start at 6am
  • Should probably get to know the neighbors
  • Expirment with cooking (also known as, too poor to go out and forgot to grocery shop before -16 degrees hit)
  • Getting creative with work outfits and explaining to my manager why today’s outfit is “totally business casual” because the laundry room was full last night
  • Property taxes!
  • The view
  • Food delivery (trust me, as a kid who grew up in the wilds of Davenport where we couldn’t even get dominos to deliver, having food delivered to your front door is probably the #2 reason I live in a city)
  • Doormen
  • People with pets have to use the freight elevators, right next to me and my clean laundry
  • Trust and Estate planning (also known as, who do I want to get my stuff in case Mayhem strikes in the form of a 16 year old girl like totes freaking out and texting while driving…on the sidewalk, or through a red light)
  • The thrill of telling someone they’re out of “the will” (see also, opening few scenes of The Devine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood)
  • Realization that my will would include a large TV, a bunch of 90’s movies on DVD and a pair of snow boots
  • No longer living in the ghetto